The walking tour of the Florence Confederate Prison Stockade, created by the Friends of the Florence Stockade, is dedicated to the memory of those soldiers who were interred, to the guards who manned the stockade, to the enslaved who constructed the stockade, and to those citizens of Florence who provided food, clothes, and medical care for all concerned. The tour begins at the informational gazebo on Stockade Drive. Trail map can be found below.

This gazebo marks the starting point of your visit.  Its historical panels present an overview of the Florence Stockade and the events that transpired here.  After two months of siege, Atlanta fell to General William T. Sherman’s armies on September 1, 1864. Confederate authorities then began evacuation of Andersonville Prison in southwest Georgia, fearing Sherman would attempt to liberate the Union prisoners there.  Nearly 30,000 men eventually would be shipped away, with Florence as the ultimate destination of fully half of them.  The men began arriving by train on September 14 and were herded into a large open field about a mile to the west of where you are standing now.  They soon were joined by thousands of others who had been held provisionally at the Charleston Fairgrounds.  On Sunday, October 2, 1864, the men were ushered into a new stockade built entirely by impressed slaves and measuring 1,400 feet east-west by 725 feet north-south.  The gazebo is at the westernmost third of the stockade, which unlike the eastern two-thirds, has remained deforested.

This informational gazebo is dedicated to the memory of Charles Brandegee Pvt. Co. A, 146th New York Infantry

Platforms of heavy timbers were constructed at the four corners of the Florence Stockade.  Cannons were placed atop them to rake the inside of the prison in case of a riot.  The southwest platform was further walled in, and a dungeon created for recalcitrant prisoners.

The most feared punishment followed upon an attempted escape.  Bloodhounds were used to track prisoners.  Once apprehended, an escapee would be brought back to the Stockade, where ropes were tied around his thumbs.  Hoisted into the air and left to dangle from the lintel of the gate or from a tree branch, the excruciating pain sooner or later would cause him to faint.  Unless he were taken down soon thereafter, permanent injury to his hands would result.

New arrivals entered the stockade through the main gate.  The prisoners were arranged into neighborhoods of “thousands,” “hundreds,” and “tens.”  To lessen the possibility that prisoners would try to scale the walls, a “deadline” paralleled the walls, and it was marked in places by sticks set horizontally on poles.  At other locations, it consisted of a furrow plowed into the ground.  A prisoner stepping over the deadline was liable to be shot on sight, although evidence shows this punishment was infrequently meted out by the guards standing atop the ramparts.

A commissary building, about 150 feet outside the main gate and bridge, stood to the west of the main gate.  This is where rations were stored before distribution.  While the typical daily food allotment varied over time, it most often consisted of a pint of unbroken corn meal and several tablespoons of dried beans – the only foodstuffs that could be had.  Food was brought inside the Stockade under Confederate guard, but it was handed over to Yankee commissary sergeants who oversaw the subdivision to the “thousands,” “hundreds,” and “tens.”

A line of officers’ cabins paralleled the western wall of the Stockade.  Major Fredrick Warley of the South Carolina Artillery was the first commandant of the prison in September 1864.  A recent prisoner of war and still in poor health from his sojourn in Northern prisons, he asked to be relieved of his duties within two weeks of the arrival of the first prisoners from Andersonville.  He had set the machinery in motion to building the Stockade as well as cobbing together a system for obtaining large quantities of corn meal and beans from the surrounding region.  His successor, Major George Harrison of the Thirty-Second Georgia Infantry, was sent up to Florence from the Defenses of Charleston.  He was in overall command of the prison and the guards until early December when his post was assumed by Lieutenant Colonel John Iverson of the Fifth Georgia Infantry.  The Fifth Georgia had guarded a portion of the Andersonville prisoners on the trip to Charleston and then brought them to Florence in the first days of October 1864.  They were responsible for discipline inside the Stockade and for training the South Carolina Reserve troops who did the bulk of the guard work.

The first “hospital” at Florence was formed when the sick gathered under the shade trees that stood at the edges of the original field enclosure.  Medicines were derived from the tree bark and roots.  The sick were expected to cook their own rations.  They also lay on the bare ground with only fragments of their own blankets and clothing for cover.  They were not brought inside the stockade walls until early November.  A set of hospital sheds was then constructed inside the northwest corner, on this spot, using prisoner labor.  At first, the sick continued to lie on the ground on beds of pine straw.  Eventually, they were elevated onto racks made of poles, which like the sheds themselves, were held together entirely by gravity and with pegs.  Nearly 2,800 prisoners died at Florence, and nearly all of them were victims of filth, malnutrition, and exposure to the elements.  They were buried in trenches in what later became the Florence National Cemetery.

Most of the guard duty at Florence was performed by the South Carolina Reserves, consisting of boys aged 17 and not yet old enough to serve in the Confederate Army, and men between the ages of 45 and 50.  Overall, military discipline was overseen by the Fifth Georgia Infantry.  A company of cavalry and a battery of light artillery complemented the garrison in the earliest days.  Guards were encamped in an arc north, east, and west of the stockade, amid earthen fortifications.  Slave laborers had their own camp, as did hundreds of “Galvanized Yankees,” who enlisted in Confederate service to escape conditions of their confinement and were on their way to new units.  Guards were given the same rations as the prisoners and suffered greatly for want of supplies and proper clothing.  Over time, they were nonetheless able to trade their brush huts for log cabins of their own construction.  Part of this encampment lay approximately 100 yards to the north of this spot.  It came to light during an archeological survey that preceded the most recent extension of the Florence National Cemetery.  Human remains found in the collapsed base of a hovel were re-interred in the National Cemetery.

“Main Street” connected the principal gate with the interior of the prison and crossed Stockade Creek on a bridge to the left of Marker 8.  Main Street was the social and economic center of the Stockade because it was here prisoners traded with each other and where sutlers from outside were allowed to sell their goods.

A typical prisoner “house” consisted of a hole 2 feet deep, 6 feet long and 4 or 5 feet wide.  At either end of the hole, a forked stick was jammed into the ground.  A ridge pole was laid into the two forks, and an improvised roof was fashioned from brush, pine straw, and layers of clay.  A tiny fireplace of sun-dried bricks at one end of the “house” provided some warmth and allowed for cooking food.  These constructions were highly susceptible to being washed down by heavy rains and had to be rebuilt constantly.  To aid in keeping warm at night, tent-mates would sleep “spoon fashion,” so-called after the way spoons nest in a drawer.

Water for drinking and cooking was drawn from the uppermost third of Stockade Creek.  The middle third was reserved for bathing, and the lowermost portion – at Marker 9 – was used for a latrine.  Many thousands of feet churned the land on either side of Stockade Creek into a vast bog.

Confederate authorities learned two important lessons at Andersonville and incorporated those lessons into the design of the Florence Stockade.  A deep trench outside the walls would deter tunneling by prisoners.  The dirt thus obtained was thrown up against the walls to provide an elevated walking platform.  Except for a few locations near the Stockade Creek, guards would not have to be confined to “pigeon roost” guard shacks on stilts, as had been the case at Andersonville.  The earthen berms you see on either side of you are the actual remains of the embarkments that once ringed the Florence Stockade.

Originally more than 10 feet high, much of the soil eventually slid back into the surrounding ditch in the decades after the war.  Because different landowners eventually claimed the area, the berms were largely preserved east of Stockade Creek, but are completely absent west of it.  This bridge was constructed to help preserve this precious earthen artifact.  Please refrain from climbing any climbing on the berms, as it will hasten the erosion.

The Florence Stockade, like the one at Andersonville in Georgia, was constructed by slaves out of thousands of tree trunks, cut to a length of about 18 feet and embedded into the ground.  Unlike the first portion of the Andersonville prison, the logs at Florence were left in the round and were not squared off prior to being erected.  Treetops and branches left on the ground inside the prison were gathered for fuel by the first inmates and as building material for earth and brush hovels.  Prisoner details were soon constituted to gather firewood and fanned out up to a mile from the main gather of the Stockade.  Working under guard, some men felled and chopped the trees, while up to 200 others carried the wood back to the prison on their shoulders.  No wagons or draft animals were to be had.  In January 1865, a gate was cut into the southeastern corner of the stockade at about this spot to shorten the distance to the standing timber.

Most escapes from the Florence Stockade took place in September 1864 while the prisoners were still being held in an open field and the guard was undermanned and inexperienced.  After the opening of the Stockade on October 2, 1864, nearly all escapes occurred among men who had been “paroled’” or given their word of honor they wouldn’t run away, for work on the wood crew.  There were not enough guards to watch each prisoner, and so it was inevitable some of the latter would try to run.  An escapee depended on the assistance of slaves if he was to reach Union lines.  Slave men and women shared food with escapees and sometimes hid them in their cabins.  With their knowledge of local geography, they also did their best to steer escapees clear of imminent danger.  This assistance notwithstanding, the average prisoner was already weak from confinement.  Most were apprehended within a week or two of their escape and brought back to Florence.

One of the reasons Florence was chosen as the site for a prison was that it sat astride three different railroads and was almost equidistant from Wilmington, Charleston, and Columbia.  Prisoners could be carted in by train with little difficulty.  The nearby Pee Dee River posed a danger, in that the Yankee blockading fleet off Georgetown might one day launch a raid and send men in light-draft gunboats up the river.  The Stockade site was bounded on the south by swamps but needed to be fortified elsewhere.  After the impressed work gangs of slaves finished erecting the Stockade in early October 1864, a portion of them were retained to construct earthworks.

Eventually, trenches and rifle pits ringed the prison to the east, north, and west.  The entrenchments at Marker 13 date from the time of the war and were originally manned by South Carolina Reserve Troops.  These entrenchments were constructed on the South Wall, the North Wall and West of the Stockade near the old sunken road.

The entrenchments located on the north wall extended in a northerly direction for approximately 100 yards, where an artillery redan was posted and continued to the east, where it met another set of entrenchments that formed a “star” pattern.

These entrenchments formed the outer perimeter of the defense works for the Stockade.  It was presumed Sherman’s forces would approach from the north or west when the Stockade was built and thus the entrenchment reflected that thought.

Marker 14 is at the remotest spot inside the Florence Stockade.  This also was the highest point within the prison. A man could look downhill toward the creek, and up the far side of the enclosure, seeing nothing but mud and brush hovels.

Early arrivals had grabbed the choicest spots for themselves closer to the creek.  Late comers had to make do with land that remained.  The only territory left unclaimed was the wide expanse of muck immediately adjacent to the creek.  A prisoner encamped in this northeast corner also had to walk over 800 feet just to fetch water, to bathe himself, or to answer calls of nature.  On all four sides stood the log walls, 14 feet high. Twenty feet inside from those walls ran the “deadline.”  Placing hand or foot over that line meant instant death by guards who peered down from above on the monotony of the prisoner’s life.

Please return by following the same path taken over the berm and Stockade Creek.

Please return to the gazebo and parking area following parallel to the south wall of the Stockade.

An exchange of the sick between the Union and Confederacy in the fall of 1864 brought some 6,000 men out of the Florence Stockade.  A portion passed through Union lines at Savannah on November 30, but the majority did so in Charleston Harbor during the first half of December.

By the end of February 1865, some 7,000 prisoners remained alive at Florence.  As part of a general exchange, these men were handed over to the Union authorities at Aiken’s Landing, Virginia, and at Wilmington, North Carolina.  South Carolina Reserves had guarded the Yankee prisoners for the duration of the Stockade’s existence, and under their own conditions of great physical hardship.  After seeing their prisoners to their destination, some guards joined with General Joseph Johnston to fight the Federals in North Carolina.  The majority returned to their home state to safeguard their homes amid the disorder that followed on the passing of General William T. Sherman’s armies.

Formal hostilities between North and South ended in April of 1865.  The land that once had been occupied by the Florence Stockade and the surrounding entrenchments gradually reverted to woodland or to agricultural use.  For this reason, the only surviving historical features consist of prison berms, moats, rifle pits, and artillery redans on the west side of Pye Branch, or “Stockade Creek.”

The entries listed will correspond to numbered markers on the walking tour and will help you understand better the history of the Stockade.  Please keep in mind that the walking tour is just that.  No motorized vehicles or bicycles are allowed on this property.  Please refrain from lettering or disturbing this historic ground in any way.  In so doing, you will be helping us preserve this site for future generations.

map of Florence Stockade walking tour